05/01/2006 11:00PM

Sweetnorthernsaint visits gate

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Three years ago, Ten Most Wanted won the Illinois Derby by four lengths, earned a gaudy 110 Beyer Speed Figure, came to Churchill Downs early, and gained so much support that he went off the third betting choice in the field at 6-1. He finished ninth.

This year, Sweetnorthernsaint won the Illinois Derby by 9 1/4 lengths, earned a gaudy Beyer Speed Figure of 109, came to Churchill Downs early, and is gaining so much support that he figures to go off a top-four betting choice. His trainer, Michael Trombetta, is unfazed by it all.

"We're here to try and win a horse race," Trombetta said. "I guess everybody's got to have a selection and a pick of some sort, and there's a whole lot to pick from this year, so over half the field could be labeled as potential winners. It's going to come down to, 'Just pick what you like.' "

Sweetnorthernsaint visited the starting gate on Tuesday and galloped a strong 1 1/4 miles in slop at Churchill Downs. Trombetta said it was important for the gate crew to get acquainted with Sweetnorthernsaint.

"You kind of got to get behind him and just give him a gentle push into the gate," Trombetta said. "He won't walk up willingly on his own. He kind of balks at it a little bit. Once you get behind him and give him a little shove he moves forward and goes right where he's asked to."

There is a chance of rain on Saturday, but that shouldn't affect Sweetnorthernsaint. He won the Miracle Wood Stakes by 10 lengths in the slop.

"He's won on a wet track before, albeit at Laurel," Trombetta said. "He handles most everything pretty good."

Hollendorfer tries again

Three times trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has pointed a horse to the Kentucky Derby after a final prep race, and twice Hollendorfer has seen his Derby plans blow away in the wind. Event of the Year was injured shortly after winning the 1998 Jim Beam Stakes, but that Derby still was weeks away. Two years later, Hollendorfer already had entered Globalize in the Derby, when Globalize got hurt.

"We entered him, and he got kicked by the stable pony the next day," Hollendorfer said. "He had to have stitches in his hock."

So, has Hollendorfer been knocking any available wood, burning sage at the altar of the racing gods all week trying to keep Cause to Believe going the right away as this year's Derby grows ever closer? Not really.

"The Derby, on the road to this thing, there are many fallen warriors," Hollendorfer said. "I'm not the only one."

Hollendorfer was here for Cause to Believe's work Saturday and was headed back to Louisville from California on Tuesday. He said Cause to Believe "had his best day at Churchill" when he galloped a mile, and while some observers questioned Cause to Believe's modest five-furlong work Saturday, Hollendorfer has grown accustomed to unimpressive training from Cause to Believe.

"He's never been a good work horse," Hollendorfer said. "It's been very frustrating, but that's him. Fortunately, in the afternoon he's never run a bad race."

Cause to Believe comes off a distant third behind Sweetnorthernsaint in the Illinois Derby, but was disadvantaged by a slow pace. The pace in the Derby looks anything but slow, especially with Bob Baffert's speed horse, Sinister Minister, who went to the half-mile in the Bluegrass Stakes in 45.80 seconds. Still, Hollendorfer isn't making assumptions.

"Everybody starts talking and talking about the same thing, and the next thing you know, Baffert's out there all by himself, and he wins the Derby," Hollendorfer said. "He's smart like that. He'll get people thinking, and they might let him go."

Romans keeping Sharp Humor calm

Dale Romans is going easy with his training of Sharp Humor this week, hoping Sharp Humor will be ready to spit fire come Derby Day.

Romans said he wants whatever aggression Sharp Humor has to come out on Derby Day.+

"I want him nice and calm now," he said. "He's as fit as he's going to be. We've trained him hard, and the thing now is to keep him calm and relaxed."

On Tuesday, Sharp Humor just jogged over the sloppy Churchill track. This after he walked for two days following his fast five-furlong work in 58.82 seconds on Saturday.

"I trained him so hard last week and he worked fast, so I'm just going to take it easy with him," Romans said.

Romans said he planned to jog Sharp Humor alongside a pony on Wednesday and "depending how that goes we'll decide Thursday if he goes by himself or with a pony."

Albertrani a well-seasoned rookie

Trainer Tom Albertrani will officially saddle his first Kentucky Derby starter, Deputy Glitters, on Saturday, but he will certainly not be lacking for Derby experience.

Albertrani will actually be participating in his fifth Kentucky Derby, having overseen the preparations of five previous Derby runners while working as the chief assistant for trainer Saeed bin Suroor. All of those horses - Worldly Manner in 1999, China Visit and Curule in 2000, Express Tour in 2001, and Essence of Dubai in 2002 - were owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Stable. Deputy Glitters is owned by Joseph Lacombe.

"Basically, I was in charge of everything, getting the Godolphin horses into their races, so it's not much different bringing Deputy Glitters up to this year's race," said Albertrani. "It's still a big responsibility whether you're working as an assistant or as the trainer of record. Fortunately having good owners makes the job easier. Sheikh Mohammed never put any pressure on us, and neither does Mr. Lacombe, and having less pressure usually helps everything go just a little smoother."

Albertrani, a 48-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y., has been out on his own only two years and currently has 27 horses under his care, including the promising 3-year-old Bernardini, winner of Saturday's Grade 3 Withers and a potential candidate for the Preakness.

Albertrani said he knows Deputy Glitters will go into the Derby a decided outsider but believes his horse can outrun his odds.

"He's doing very well," said Albertrani. "The only disappointing thing is that he's coming off a bad race in the Wood. But I'm putting a line through that one because of the wet track. I believe if he can run back to his previous two races at Tampa that he fits well in this field."

Deputy Glitters, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, is stabled in Barn 17, alongside another Derby longshot, Seaside Retreat, who is trained by Mark Casse. It is a reunion of sorts for Albertrani, a former

jockey, who rode his first winner at Churchill Downs for Casse in 1982.

"The horse was Crystalize, and it was the first mount I got after coming to Churchill Downs," Albertrani said. "He paid $181. Now I'm trying to do the same thing with the first horse I've run here as a trainer. He won't pay $181 if he wins. But he might be pretty close to it."

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh and Mike Welsch